Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Militia Organized Again, Then Becomes the Idaho National Guard [otd 03/14]

In an interesting coincidence, two different March 14 dates are significant for the Idaho National Guard. On March 14, 1889, Edward A. Stevenson, governor of Idaho Territory, sent a letter to the Quartermaster-General of the U. S. Army, stating that the citizens of Boise had organized a company of militia.
Governor Stevenson.
City of Boise photo.

This action followed over a decade during which the Territory had no authorized military force at all. In the early gold rush days, miners had assembled ad hoc companies to fight Indians. These Volunteer troops became somewhat more formalized for the so-called "Snake War" in 1864-1868, but many lasted only a few weeks.

However, during Idaho's final Indians wars of 1877-1879, the Territory had companies of Idaho Volunteer Militia (a "Regiment," but in name only) as well as numerous local militia units. The latter included three from Boise City alone (the "Boise Mounted Rangers," etc.), and at least eight others (the "First Payette Guards" and so forth). All these organizations disbanded when the last groups of Indians had been forced onto reservations. Around 1879, Governor Mason Brayman urged the legislature to create a formal Territorial-wide militia. However, for various reasons, mostly political, nothing was done.

So matters remained until President Grover Cleveland appointed Stevenson as Territorial Governor. The first actual Idaho resident chosen for that position, he had moved to Idaho in 1864, and was familiar with its militia history. Stevenson had, in fact, encouraged the Boiseans to form their company, which they styled the "Governor's Guards."

The state had no particular budget for such an organization, so the governor asked the Quartermaster-General if the Army could, and would, provide suitable uniforms, arms, and ammunition. The General's specific answer was unreported at the time, but he must have been agreeable: The Governor’s Guards were in full operation by early May. The Idaho Statesman reported (July 3, 1889) that “the ladies of Boise” would present them with a “beautiful banner” during a ceremony on the 4th of July.

Idaho soon had militia companies organized in Weiser, Grangeville, Albion, Eagle Rock, and Hailey.

In 1889, Stevenson and his successor called for a constitutional convention, preparatory to asking Congress to make Idaho a state. That document explicitly defined a militia. Then, on another March 14 – in 1891 – a new state governor signed the Act that formally organized the militia, soon to be called the Idaho National Guard. The legislation also provided an appropriation to supplement funds from the Federal government for uniforms and equipment.

Within about a year, the Governor found a use for the new organization: He called the Guard out to restore order in the Coeur d’Alene mining districts, where union unrest had escalated into violence.

In 1898, the U. S. President, for the first time, called out the Idaho Guard to meet a national emergency – the Spanish-American War. To bolster the severely undermanned Regular Army, President William McKinley mobilized Guards units from all over the country.
First Idaho in the Philippines, 1899. National Archives.

Under that directive, the Idaho Guard became the First Idaho Regiment, a unit of the U. S. Army Volunteers. The First Idaho landed in the Philippines in early August, and saw most of its action helping check the Filipino insurrection. The regiment returned to the States and demobilized in September 1899.

The Guard structure remained in place, of course. It’s next major call-up was for duty on the Mexican Border in 1916 [blog, June 18].

References: [Hawley]
Orlan J. Svingen (Ed.), The History of the Idaho National Guard, Idaho National Guard, Boise (1995).

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